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Cassette tapes: 50 years on…

Cassette tapes were the start of a ‘music on the go’ phenomenon.

The very first compact cassette tape was unveiled at the radio exhibition ‘Funkausstellung’ in Berlin, in August 1963. The inventor was a man named Lou Ottens who worked for electronic giant Philips.

The very first portable music player, as such, was released by Philips in 1966 in the form of the ‘EL3301T’, basically, a cassette deck with speakers. In the early 70’s car manufacturers started fitting in-car cassette decks, a practice that continued right up until 2010 with certain manufacturers. July 1st 1979, was a huge day in the history books for portable music as it saw Sony release their very first Walkman, a portable cassette player small enough to fit in your pocket. The Walkman became iconic, and production only ended in 2010.

In November 1981 advertising executive Hugh Salmon teamed up with NME journalist Max Bell to create SFX Magazine. This was a music magazine, which came on a tape rather than as a paper copy. Despite obtaining some big stories, such as Paul McCartney’s reaction to John Lennon’s death, the magazine came to an end in 1982 due to the high production costs.

Between 1985 and 1992 cassettes were the most popular format for buying music, before the arrival of the Compact Disk (CD). The CD offered better quality sound than cassette tapes, in a format that was equally as portable and convenient. After the introduction of the CD, cassette sales started to decline whilst CD sales grew and more or less took over the 90’s.

The next major music format was the MP3, invented in December 1991. It was six years before MP3s first became available, via the website, which enabled users to access music online, providing they had the copyright. In February 1998 launched, this was the first website which offered MP3 downloads and a subscription service.

April 1998 saw the introduction of the very first portable MP3 player, the MPMan, created by Korean electronics company Saehan. It took over three years for Apple to release its own MP3 player, the iPod, which became available in October 2001.

Apples next big launch was iTunes, an online music store enabling users to purchase single tracks or whole albums with just one click of a mouse. By January 2005 music downloads were actually out-selling physical copies of records, and were incorporated in the UK singles chart. In July 2005, just over two years after its launch, iTunes had sold 500 million records.

The next big development in terms of music formats was music streaming services, where the listener doesn’t actually obtain their own copy of the music, but can listen to it online. Leading music streaming service Spotify, opened for free registration in the UK in February of 2009 and grew rapidly. The free service is supported by adverts, played between songs, however users can opt to pay a subscription fee of £9.99 per month to upgrade to the premium service. Spotify can be downloaded as an app on all major smart phones, enabling users to listen to whatever music they like on the go, providing they have some form of internet connection. The premium service also has the option to create playlists and make them available offline, meaning there is no need for an internet connection to listen, as the tracks will be downloaded.

Over the years music formats have continued to change and will, no doubt, carry on changing. Whether it is to improve the quality of what we’re listening to or to make it more convenient, it seems that music formats will always develop. But it was the influence of the cassette players modest way of having music on the go, which has changed music technology forever.

Written by Connor Mackay

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